“Words make you think thoughts, music makes you feel a feeling, but a song makes you feel a thought.”

Yip Harburg

I didn’t learn that quotation at church. But I learned the truth of it at church.

A hymn is a song.

And it is probably fair to say that most of us churchgoers learn most of our theology, the theology that really lives in us, from the hymnal.

Add this: church music is the sound track for some of the most significant, most memorable, most emotionally saturated moments of our lives.

The result: most of us, over time, collect a handful of songs that we can’t sing without crying.

“How Great Thou Art” is one of mine. I doubt I’m alone on this one, but here’s my particular story:

Our uncle Boyce was a singer, a tenor; he’d had voice training and everything. Only occasionally, because he lived way “back East,” we’d have a visit from him. Usually it was lunch or dinner at a restaurant, because he was “out West” on business and didn’t have much time. But occasionally he’d come to the house, and then he’d sing something. For Nanny, our grandmother, his mother. Because she loved to hear him sing.

When our grandmother died, Mom organized the memorial service. I flew back from Chicago; Uncle Boyce flew out from Maine or wherever he was living by then. And he sang that song one last time for Nanny.

Mom recorded it.

When our other uncle died, their brother, Mom organized another memorial service. This time in Kentucky, where they had all grown up, and still had family.

Uncle Boyce couldn’t attend that one. He was the baby of the family, but his older brother and sister had outlived him. But Mom played the recording, and in our hearts, he sang that song one last time for his brother.

I can never get past the line “and take me home” without thinking of Nanny and all her children, “home.”
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A side note, the tune for this hymn is O Store Gud – O Big/Great/Mighty God, in Norwegian [a story for another time], or more properly in Swedish, which as the Norwegians might say is almost as good, and is the original language of the lyrics.

I can’t help thinking of the song that way, either – as “from there.” More joy.
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[The Norwegian version.]
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Image: Gaudenzio Ferrari, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons